From her punk days growing up in Southampton, to revolutionising the bridal industry, Jenny Packham takes us on her journey to find inspiration from a Paris flea market and the vintage stores of LA. She pieces together her life, and a career filled with a passion for exquisite clothes, with her brother Chris, the naturalist and TV presenter.
So much has been written about Norman Scott – from the newspapers who covered the Jeremy Thorpe trial in 1979, insulting Norman with homophobic slurs, to the book A Very English Scandal and its subsequent dramatisation (Norman was played by Ben Whishaw). Here, for the first time, he tells his remarkable story in his own words to writer and former broadcast journalist Rachel Clarke. From his disruptive childhood to how he found solace in friendship with animals and some of the jaw-dropping characters and moments that he has encountered throughout a quite remarkable life, in An Accidental Icon he reveals the life of a man many people think they know, but do not.
Melvyn Bragg revisits and reflects on his life from childhood to adulthood in the Cumbrian market town of Wigton, from the early years alone with his mother while his father fought in the war to the moment he left the town. It’s the tale of a working-class boy who grew up in a pub and expected to leave school at 15; who happily roamed the streets and raided orchards with his friends yet had a chronic breakdown when he was 13, forcing him to find new survival strategies; who was deeply embedded in a close-knit community, and experiencing the joys of first love, yet also found himself drawn to a mentor keen to steer him towards the challenge of an Oxford scholarship.
It’s equally the tale of the place that formed him and a compelling and poignant recreation of a vanished era: an elegy for a community-spirited northern town with its factories and churches and chapels steeped in the old ways, but on the cusp of rapid post-war change; and a celebration of the glorious Lakeland landscapes which inspired Bragg from an early age. This love letter to his home town and the people who shaped him is imbued with all the luminous wonder of those indelible early memories which nurtured his future life as a writer, broadcaster, and champion of the arts.
There are categories of intimate writing which modern technology has rendered obsolete. Keats sealed his letters to his beloved with a kiss. Whoever did that to an email in the age of electronic Valentines? Who, nowadays, keeps a private written journal? It’s all up there in the cloudy Diary in the Sky. Until well into the 20th century young men and women carried ‘autograph books’ for sketches, verbal and pictorial, by friends. They now only exist as relics on eBay. Is intimate writing a dead letter – as obsolete as the quill pen? Not entirely. John Crace has revived the political sketch, diary and (highly personalised) critical ‘digest’.
John Sutherland has written intimate memoirs (one of which, his struggle with alcoholism, he regrets publishing). He recently met himself – sixty years younger – in his university tutor’s voluminous letters about him to Philip Larkin. It inspired his latest book, Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me.
The Two Johns discuss intimacy in public and personal writing – the difference between writing with one eye on publication and for oneself alone – and where, in an era of grams, selfies and tweeting it can go. And have fun while doing so.
Pianist Jeremy Denk traces his implausible journey to world renown, illustrating his reflections with musical interludes on piano in this unique event.
From precocious and temperamental six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey he progressed via New Mexico, far from classical music’s nerve centres, past a bewildering cast of college music teachers and a series of humiliations and triumphs, to find his way as one of the world’s greatest living pianists, a MacArthur ‘Genius’, and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall.
Unusually, Denk is willing to explore both the joys and miseries of artistic practice. Hours of daily repetition, mystifying early advice, pressure from parents and teachers who drove him on – and an ongoing battle of talent against two enemies: boredom and insecurity. He composes a fraught love letter to the act of teaching, examining what motivates both student and teacher, locked in a complicated and psychologically perilous relationship. He explores how classical music is relevant to ‘real life’ and reminds us that music is our creation, and that we need to keep asking questions about its purpose.
Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and acclaimed author of Negroland Margo Jefferson shatters herself into pieces to examine each influence, love and passion that has thrilled and troubled her and made up her sense of self as a person and as a writer – her family, jazz luminaries, dancers, writers, lovers, artists, athletes and stars.
Jefferson interrogates race, class, family, art and identity as well as the act of writing memoir, and probes fissures at the centre of American cultural life. Bing Crosby and Ike Turner are among the author’s alter egos. The sounds of a jazz LP emerge as the intimate and instructive sounds of a parent’s voice. WEB Du Bois and George Eliot meet illicitly. The muscles and movements of a ballerina are spliced with those of an Olympic runner, becoming a template for what a black female body can be.
She talks to writer and broadcaster Francine Stock.
An icon in the world of designer jewellery and known for his quintessential eccentricity and sharp sense of humour, Theo Fennell takes us on a journey of ups and downs (but mostly downs) in his early reminiscences. His book is named after the single comment on his final school report, following an unexpectedly premature departure. I Fear For This Boy is a collection of hilarious and often beyond-belief stories of his bumpy road to success.
In his breathtakingly honest Memoir of Race, Identity, Breakdown and Recovery David Harewood reveals how investigating his own experience of psychosis and exploring stigma around mental health has given him the freedom to look at his life from a new perspective – one that throughout his acting career he had been unable to process until now, thirty years after the event.
When David was twenty-three, only two years out of drama school with a career starting to take flight, he had what he now understands to be a psychotic breakdown and ended up being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. He was physically detained by six police officers, sedated, then hospitalised and transferred to a locked ward.
Since making an award-winning documentary about his experiences for the BBC, David came to understand the extent to which his psychosis and subsequent treatment was rooted in race and racism. David talks to Stephen Fry about the statistics around mental health in the UK and how adversely the numbers are stacked against Black people.
Jules Howard is a wildlife expert, zoologist, and author of Wonderdog: How the Science of Dogs Changed the Science of Life. He and Britain’s best-loved comedian Julian Clary, author of The Lick of Love: How Dogs Changed My Life, discuss our beloved canine friends, how their intelligence and emotional capacity has changed the way we think about animals, and where we (as a pair of species) go from here.
The UK’s leading authority on recovering from disaster looks back at her work on some of the most high-profile disasters of recent decades including 9/11, the 7/7 bombings, the Shoreham air disaster, the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Covid-19 pandemic. No one person expects to experience just one of these events, let alone all.
Professor Lucy Easthope has spent her life preparing for, and working in the aftermath of, disasters to better plan for future events. She describes life behind the police tapes and her focus on the victims and their families and the government briefing rooms where ‘confusion and soggy biscuits can reign supreme’. When The Dust Settles: Stories of Love, Loss and Hope from an Expert in Disaster is both her memoir and a record of what can be learned from living a life on the edges of disaster.
Easthope is Professor in Practice of Risk and Hazard at the University of Durham and Fellow in Mass Fatalities and Pandemics at the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. She talks to writer and broadcaster Francine Stock.
A memoir with a twist: each chapter is a recipe that tells a story. Ed Balls was just three weeks old when he tried his first meal in 1967: puréed roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. From that moment on he was hooked on food. Taught to cook by his mother, Ed’s now passing her wisdom on to his own kids as they start to fly the nest.
Reflecting on his life in recipes, Ed takes us from his grandma’s shepherd’s pie to his first trip to a restaurant in the 1970s; from the inner workings of Westminster to the pressures of parenting.
He talks Natalie Haynes through a collection of the meals he loves most, and the memories they bring back.
How honestly do we talk about birth? How safe is birth today? Could better conversations lead to better births? Candice Brathwaite addresses the higher maternal mortality rates for black women in Britain. Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed Joeli Brearley highlights the traumatic and isolated experiences of women on maternity wards throughout the Covid pandemic. In her memoir Frontline Midwife, Anna Kent shares her experiences of working in South Sudan, Bangladesh and the NHS. They talk to freelance journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker Nicola Cutcher.
Rebecca Mead’s Home/Land tells how when she relocated to her birth city, London, with her family in the summer of 2018, she was both fleeing the political situation in America and seeking to expose her son to a wider world. With a keen sense of what she’d given up as she left New York, her home of thirty years, she tried to knit herself into the fabric of a changed London. The move raised poignant questions about place: what does it mean to leave the place you have adopted as home and country? And what is the value and cost of uprooting yourself? She addresses these questions with lawyer and writer Philippe Sands.
Max Boyce celebrates the publication of the best of his selected poems, songs and stories with award-winning journalist Carolyn Hitt. When ‘Hymns and Arias’ rang out at Cardiff Arms Park some fifty years ago, the great Welsh anthems had found a companion and the valleys of South Wales had produced a new folk hero. Max Boyce captures the spirit and the story of the people of Wales with a warmth and charm that has made his words and music resonate with a worldwide audience. There is only one Max. Join him as he discusses his remarkable career.
Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding and author of Everything You Really Need to Know About Politics, lifts the lid on what a career in politics is really like and why it matters – to all of us. She tells the inside story of what’s really going on in government. But, politics is far bigger than Westminster. She makes the compelling case to Guardian writer and columnist Hugh Muir for why now, more than ever, we all need to be a part of it.
Justin Webb’s childhood was far from ordinary. “The TV news came on and a lugubrious-looking chap in a light coloured suit with a deep, plummy voice said something about the balance of payments. ‘That’s your father’, my mother said, quite unprompted.”
Between his mother’s undiagnosed psychological problems and his step-father’s untreated ones, life at home was dysfunctional at best. But with gun-wielding school masters and substandard living conditions, Quaker boarding school wasn’t much better. And the backdrop to this coming of age story? Britain in the 1970s. Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Free. Strikes, inflation and IRA bombings. A time in which attitudes towards mental illness, parenting and masculinity were worlds apart from the attitudes we have today. A society that believed itself to be close to the edge of breakdown.
On radio and television, Justin Webb comes across as one of this country’s most relaxed and affable broadcasters. His moving and frank memoir tells a different story of a childhood defined by loneliness, the absence of a father and the grim experience of a Quaker boarding school. He gives a perceptive account of Britain in the 1970s when the country was at its most stagnant and grey. He talks to broadcaster and journalist Sophie Raworth about his story of hope and how the gift of a radio changed the life of an unhappy little boy and put him on the road to becoming one of Britain’s most trusted journalists.
Explorer is the story of what first led Benedict Allen to head for the farthest reaches of our planet – at a time when there were still valleys and ranges known only to the remote communities who inhabited them. It is also the story of why, thirty years later, he is still exploring. It’s the story of a journey back to a clouded mountain in New Guinea to find a man called Korsai who had once been a friend, and to fulfil a promise made as young men. It is also a story of what it is to be ‘lost’ and ‘found’. Allen considers the lessons he has learnt from his numerous expeditions; most importantly, from the communities he has encountered and that he has spent so much of his life immersed in. He talks to travel and adventure writer Dan Richards.
Known for her witty and surreal view on everyday life, actor and comedian Lucy Beaumont shares the unpredictable craziness of being a mum in her laugh-out-loud ‘mumoir’ Drinking Custard: The Diary of a Confused Mum. From when she was hospitalised with indigestion in her third trimester (blame the burrito), to when she was *this close* to slapping her hypno-birthing instructor, to finding herself drinking a whole pint of custard in one sitting, Beaumont sees the funny side of motherhood.
Over the course of a year, award-winning comedian Rachel Parris asked members of her live audience for bits of life advice that they would pass on to others. In Advice From Strangers: Everything I Know from People I Don't Know she takes these tidbits – such as ‘Be Kind’ or ‘Never Pass Up the Opportunity for a Wee’ – and weaves them into an explorative book that is at times funny and serious, and hilarious and heartbreaking.
The two comedians explore the challenges of motherhood and modern life, dealing with everything from tampons to Tories and #hashtags to staying hydrated.
Irish Book Award-winning writer Sinéad Gleeson is co-editor of This Woman’s Work: Essays On Music. Neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday is author of The Secret World of the Brain. Journalist Jude Rogers’ The Sound of Being Human: How Music Shapes Our Lives explores how music shapes us from before birth to later life through her own personal, emotional story. They explore how music moulds our memories and identities in fascinating ways.
Sinéad Gleeson is co-editor of This Woman’s Work: Essays On Music. Neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday is author of The Secret World of the Brain. Journalist Jude Rogers’ The Sound of Being Human: How Music Shapes Our Lives explores how music shapes us from before birth. They explore how music moulds our memories and identities in fascinating ways.
Anna Fleming’s Time on Rock: A Climber’s Route into the Mountains charts her progress from terrified beginner to confident lead climber, and the way in which learning to climb offered a new relationship with both the landscape and herself. She describes how climbing invites us into the history of a place: geologically, of course, but also culturally, delving into what it’s like to be a woman in such a male-dominated world – and the ways in which the climbing community is trying to shift that balance.
Poet and novelist Helen Mort’s A Line Above the Sky is a love letter to losing oneself in physicality, whether climbing a mountain or bringing a child into the world. Melding memoir and nature writing to ask why humans are drawn to danger, and how we can find freedom in pushing our limits, she examines attitudes to women who take risks, particularly once they become mothers, and questions who their ‘body’ belongs to. Helen’s own story is haunted by the life of Alison Hargreaves who died on K2, having gone against convention by refusing to give up her career as a professional mountaineer after having children.